What will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Reflection for Septuagesima Sunday

Matthew 20;1–6 and Matthew 5;13–20.

This reflection was provoked by a message from my National Health Service. “Take care of your mental health with free therapy.” Mindfulness and mental health are a preoccupation today along with keeping exercised and eating the right food! Important as these are, it no longer recognises any concept of the soul. Jesus warns us to be concerned for, “what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul”? [Matt; 16;26] If we did not already know, it must now be obvious that Christians are surrounded by an altogether different anthropology with only the thinnest layer of Christian understanding, covering our national landscapes, and people believing the goal of life is only health and happiness. Within such cultures it is increasingly difficult not to be overwhelmed by attitudes that surround us. This year, the London School of Economics in the University of London, announced that it no longer tolerates the idea of Lent or Easter, reason enough for setting aside a time of separation in which like gardeners we prepare the ground for the planting of spiritual seed that nourishes the soul.

A degree of detachment from the surrounding culture is part of our preparation because too much involvement with the world’s thinking only converts us into greater worldliness. Christian anthropology underlines the entire Bible affirming that because we are made in the image of God, every person is more than just mind and body but also is endowed with the soul and it is the soul that regulates our interior disjointedness, and engages with the divine. The human soul and body are so interdependent, that by dissolving the soul as our cultures are happily engaged in, is destroying the mind and body and life with it. We must not ignore our higher spiritual nature, but respond to the call of Jesus, “blessed are those who thirst for righteousness,” and we do it this Sunday called Septuagesima by preparing the ground to sow the food for the soul.

Phillip Medhurst, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Our Church provides two passages to test our own ability to be disciples. Matthew 20;1–6 is part of the teaching Jesus gives to his disciples about the Kingdom of heaven in which they are co-workers in God’s vineyard. In the Kingdom life is not like life in the world with rewards and perks. Such things are irrelevant just as status and privilege have no place. Bonhoeffer in his book “Life together,” draws this out by discussing the Fellowship of Christ in which there is no status or strife, no discord which arise from the over activity of the ego. The Kingdom is enabled to escape the self-centredness of the ego by becoming the Body of Christ and his co-workers.

The other Gospel passage is from Matthew 5;13–20. This follows the Beatitudes, the great summary at the heart of the Lord’s own spiritual wisdom. Jesus says to his disciples, “you are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing,”[5;13] and “you are the light of the world” [14]. God’s gifts to his people of salt and light are like the gifts of the vineyard workers not just for themselves but for the growth and illumination of the Kingdom reflecting Christ’s light to illuminate others. This image was especially important when Jesus was making his way to his trial in Jerusalem, a city that no longer shone as a beacon of holiness but a sign of human weakness and tragedy.

Both passages are challenging our model as disciples of the Kingdom, essential steps prepare for the Lenten journey with our Lord that will follow during Lent. St. Thomas Aquinas whose feast was only a few days ago wrote “that which is received depends upon the mode of the receiver.”

In other words to participate in the journey with Christ will depend upon the condition each individual is in and what ability we will have to cope with the preconceptions that have taken root within us.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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